Employee Motivation: Implementing Mcclelland's Three Needs Theory

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Employee Motivation: Implementing McClelland's Three Needs Theory

Fundamentals of Management MGT 3371

September 30, 2010


What motivates employees to perform? Is it money? Power and prestige? Camaraderie? Personal achievement? On the surface, it is logical to assume that money motivates people to work. Money is needed to meet the basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. The more money you make, the more things you can afford to buy. Yes, money is a great motivator. But is it THE motivating factor that drives employees to perform? What about power and prestige? Is that “atilla the hun” type executive more influenced by his big paycheck or is it his need for control, recognition and status symbols that drives him? What about camaraderie? Some workers excel in work environments where there is a lot of human interaction and harmony within the group. Others prefer to work alone, rarely having to deal with other people. What about personal achievement? Take for example, two employees who go to work for the same company at the same time, same job, same pay. One stays on the same job for 20 years content with where he is. The other, over the same 20 years, advances within the company to more and more difficult jobs with more and more responsibility until he reaches upper management where he finds himself not nearly as happy as the other guy. He is making much more money, yet he is unhappy. Perhaps, he never was “suited” for a management position. Is there a way to know which employees are better suited for which jobs? David McClelland thought there was. He believed that if we could identify what it was that motivated employees then we could put them into the appropriate jobs to meet those needs. This in turn would produce a motivated workforce contributing to economic growth (Nohria & Groysberg, 2008). McClelland developed a theory known as the three needs theory or the learned needs theory. He proposed that an individual's needs are acquired over time and are shaped by our life experiences. Most of these needs can be classified as either achievement, affiliation, or power. Motivation and effectiveness on the job are influenced by these three needs.

The first of the three needs is achievement (nAch). People who are achievement-motivated tend to look for ways of doing things better, making improvements. They are not gamblers, but do like some moderate risk. They enjoy tasks that are not too hard nor too easy. In their eyes, if it is too difficult, they risk failure. Too easy and they don't feel a sense of accomplishment, anybody could do it (Dowling, 1972). To the high achiever, achievement is more important than financial reward. Meeting goals is more rewarding than praise and recognition. Feedback is essential to achievement motivated employees. It can be in a number of different forms. Meeting and/or exceeding goals and expectations (such as sales goals) is one way. Money is also a form of feedback, as it let's the person know that they are performing well. They see financial rewards as a measurement of success rather than a means to an end. They prefer feedback about their work over comments about their personal characteristics.

People who are assessed as high achievers are likely to be the employees who get things done. They are the ones who make things happen and get results. They prefer jobs in which their success depends on their own efforts and abilities rather than chance and factors beyond their control. Achievement-motivated people are well suited for jobs in sales, real estate, business management and entrepreneurial roles such as owner of a small business.

The second of the three needs is affiliation (n-Affil). Affiliation-motivated people have a need for friendly relationships and prefer interaction with other people. They like atmospheres that are cooperative, supportive, and friendly. A sense of belonging and group conformity is preferred to...
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